Rāhula ordained as first novice - Why are there rules? - Meaning of Vinaya - How Vinaya began - Contents of the Patimokkha - allowances and prohibitions - few things, few troubles - Legal procedures in the Sangha - Ten Reasons for Vinaya.
When the Buddha returned to Kapilavatthu, the Sakiya’s principal city, at the entreaty of his father, King Suddhodana, the Buddha’s son, Rāhula was ordained as the first novice or samanera.
It happened in this way. The Buddha and the Bhikkhus accompanying him having received no invitations to the Sakiyan’s houses, walked for alms food. This caused a great stir in the town - that the Buddha, formerly the Crown Prince there, should do such a thing. When the king heard about it he too was disturbed and ran into the streets to stop the Buddha, saying that he was disgracing his lineage. The Buddha replied that in his lineage people always went on alms round, a statement which the king contested saying that no Sakiya prince had ever done so. But by his own lineage the Buddha meant the lineage of the Buddhas from past times. When the Buddha spoke some verses about this the king attained to the Noble Path and Fruit of Stream entry and immediately perceiving his own lack of courtesy invited the Buddha and all the Bhikkhu-Sangha to a meal in the palace. At the end of the meal when the Buddha was about to depart, the Buddha’s former wife, Princess Yasodhara, said to Rāhula, „That is your father, Rāhula. Go and ask for your inheritance.“ So prince Rāhula went to the Blessed One and stood before him, (saying): ‘Your shadow is pleasant, monk’. Then the Blessed One got up from his seat and went away. Prince Rāhula followed behind the Blessed One, saying: ‘Give me my inheritance, monk; give me my inheritance, monk’. Then the Blessed One told venerable Sāriputta, ‘Then, Sāriputta, give him the Going-forth’. The Commentary elaborates and says that the Buddha considered the worldly inheritance of power and riches as leading only to more sufferings and so gave him his inheritance in the Dhamma. The Buddha saw that Rāhula had all the potential necessary to attain Arahantship.
At this time Rāhula was only seven years old. (Six years had been spent before Enlightenment in seeking the Way while one year had passed since then). Venerable Sāriputta therefore enquired how he should do this and the Buddha told him to use the second style of Acceptance - Going-for-Refuge, which was described in the last chapter. So Rāhula became the first samanera, literally meaning ‘a little Samana’, Samana being a word used for all who cultivate peacefulness in mind, speech and body.
But King Suddhodana was not happy. When Prince Siddhattha left home he had lost his son and heir to the throne. Just prior to Rāhula’s going-forth, Prince Nanda, the Buddha’s cousin, a youth about to be married, had become a Bhikkhu. „Rāhula is too much,“ as the King said. He requested the Buddha not to allow the going-forth of children without their parents’ permission - and the Buddha laid down a ruling that this was not to be done. To do so in future would be an offence of wrong-doing.
This brings us to a discussion of the rules, which govern the life of a Bhikkhu. First, for what reason are there rules? It was characteristic of the Buddha that he never laid down rules unless he had to do so. In the example above, it was so that parents should not grieve and possibly take action against Bhikkhus who made novices of their children, but very often the need for rules arose through the unsuitable actions of some Bhikkhus, and later of some bhikkhunis too. What actions are unsuitable for those who lead the Holy Life ? As this life is for ending, for destroying all the defilements, which spring up from the three Roots of Evil - greed, aversion and delusion, actions of body and speech, which are born of them, will certainly be obstructive and unsuitable. Rules are only for checking body and speech actions, not to restrain the mind, which should be trained by meditation. So the Buddha when faced with a situation where some Bhikkhu had failed to be restrained in actions of body and speech, first upbraided the guilty Bhikkhu and then convened an assembly of Bhikkhus in which he laid down a rule of training. No doubt he thought, ‘If they do such things while I am alive, what will they do when I am no longer here?’ But before such an incident actually arose the Buddha did not lay down any rule at all, even though such a thing, theft for instance, was sure to occur sooner or later.
Rules, after all, are needed by the weakest members of any society. Those who are strong in moral principles just naturally keep to good conduct. So it was in the Sangha, for most of the rules laid down were because of a Bhikkhu’s greed, aversion or delusion, which made him act in a way, which disturbed other people, his fellow-Bhikkhus or householders.
Those who were training themselves diligently and applying the Dhamma all the time were unlikely to do anything, which was unsuitable to the Bhikkhu life. While of course, the Noble Ones and the Arahants in particular hardly ever fell into an offence. If they did so it was in matters, which never involved a moral lapse, only small things which had been overlooked. Venerable Sāriputta for instance, one day was leaving the monastery to go into town and one side of his sarong or under-robe had slipped down. A young samanera noticed this and very respectfully informed him, at which venerable Sāriputta rearranged it and thanked the samanera, with true humility called him ‘Teacher’. Sometimes an Arahant was involved in a more serious affair, which the Buddha did not approve of and made the subject for a ruling. There was the very spectacular case of Venerable Pindola-Bharadvaja who exhibited his mighty powers to many people. The Buddha heard the noise of the vast multitude that had seen him levitate and fly, and enquired about it. When he was told how the venerable Arahant had brought down the precious sandalwood bowl from on top of the pole, he censured him strongly saying that he had done it just as a woman for money exhibits her loins. In this case no doubt venerable Pindola-Bharadvaja intended to use his powers just to win over the rich merchant who was offering the bowl to anyone who could show him the marvel of levitation. In other words, his intention was to use his powers to teach Dhamma but the Buddha did not approve of this method. Though he possessed in full all sorts of powers, he rarely used them, esteeming the gradual method of leading people to discover Dhamma step by step as more wonderful.
To return now to the rules. All the varied material - rules, prohibitions and allowances and the formal acts of the Sangha, together with accounts of the events, which had given rise to them, are included in the Basket of Vinaya or Discipline. Although ‘Vinaya’ has been translated by the word ‘Discipline’, English cannot convey the full flavour of the word, for it means literally ‘that by which one is led out’. Led out of what? Led out of dukkha, of all the sufferings experienced in the round of birth and death. So Vinaya extricates the person who practises it from making evil kammas by speech and body and so continuing in ‘the wandering-on’; while on the other hand purifying exterior actions so that the interior ones, the workings of the mind, can be purified through the meditations of calm and insight. But without Vinaya none of the higher steps in the training will be successful. This applies not only to Bhikkhus but to lay people as well. Their Vinaya basically is the Five Precepts, though a wider application of these is seen in the discourse of the Buddha to the young man called Sigāla, a sutta that is also called „The Householder’s Vinaya“.
The rules of the Vinaya arose gradually in the course of the forty-five years of the Buddha’s teaching. A commentary tells us that no serious challenge to the Holy Life arose for the first twenty years after the Buddha’s Enlightenment. During this time and later until the time of the Buddha’s Final Nibbāna, these rulings were remembered and put in some kind of order by Bhikkhus who specialised in memorising Vinaya. They are known as Vinayadharas - literally, ‘those who hold (or preserve) the Vinaya’ and it is due to their diligence that we have the Vinaya today. Among the group of ‘discipline-holders’ the venerable Arahant Upāli Thera was the most distinguished. Even during the Buddha’s lifetime he was an authority on Vinaya and after the Final Nibbāna he led the First Council in the codification of what we now call the Case (or Basket) of Discipline.
This contains a vast amount of material though it is not all rules, fortunately for Bhikkhus! Its present arrangement, the work of the First Council (See Ch. IV), probably differs from the way that it was preserved while the Buddha was alive. Then its beginning may have been the long passage describing how the Buddha attained Enlightenment and the events which followed up to the arrival of the two foremost disciples. After this the Vinaya describes how situations arose showing the need for new Bhikkhus to have Teachers and the Buddha makes rules about this. However, this long section is not now the opening of the Vinaya, as it stands at the beginning of the Great Chapter, the Vinaya’s second half. The opening section of the Vinaya now relates how venerable Sāriputta requested the Buddha to lay down the fundamental code of rules called the Pātimokkha. The Buddha declined to do so until it became necessary, in accordance with the principle of not making rules unless they were needed. Sometime after this such a need arose when venerable Sudinna Kalandakaputta defiled the Holy Life when he was lured into having sexual intercourse with his former wife. This was the first time that a ruling upon a serious matter of Vinaya had to be made by the Buddha.
As we have the books of the Vinaya now, the first two present their material, the fundamental rules in the sequence of the Pātimokkha, of Bhikkhus and bhikkhunis respectively. The Pātimokkha is the code of 227 rules (for Bhikkhus) recited every fortnight when Bhikkhus have a chance to confess infractions and then, purified, listen to their recitation. But in the Vinaya these bare rules are supplemented with their origins in this or that incident, further events, which may modify the rule, analysis as to when one has or has not fallen into an offence, a word-by-word commentary, and finally excusable circumstances which do not count as infractions. All this accounts for the bulky nature of the first two Vinaya books.
The second two books, the Great Chapter and the Lesser Chapter may just be mentioned here. After their beginning, from which much material for the first two chapters of this book has been taken, they deal with many different subjects, each one introduced by long and interesting stories. There are the numerous allowances and prohibitions that the Buddha had to make, as well as the legal procedures established by him for the Sangha. Finally, there are two chapters on the first two Buddhist Councils, one of which was held just after the Buddha’s Final Nibbāna and the second, one hundred years later (see Ch. IV).
The classification of rules in the Pātimokkha may be reviewed briefly so that readers understand what sort of actions is unsuitable for the Holy Life. But not all of the offences against these rules are of the same order spiritually. There are some, like the offence of wrong doing mentioned above, which are minor matters in the sense that they can be cleared away by simple confession with another Bhikkhu. (Though only ‘minor’ offences, good Bhikkhus are careful not to commit them, wherever possible). On the other hand, some defeat the doer of them, in the sense that he has defeated his own purpose - to use the Holy Life for purification and Enlightenment. After doing any of the following four things a Bhikkhu is called ‘incurable’, loses his state and must disrobe: intentional sexual intercourse of any sort, theft of an object having some value, murder of a human being which includes aiding abortion or praising suicide to someone who then takes his own life, and last, boasting of or hinting at superhuman attainments which one does not have, whether they are deep states of meditation or degrees of insight and Enlightenment. If a Bhikkhu does these things knowingly he is no longer in communion with other Bhikkhus and not regarded as a Bhikkhu by them. Even if he continues to wear the yellow robes he is not a Bhikkhu. And so serious are these offences that if he continues to pose as a Bhikkhu, even though he makes great efforts to progress in Dhamma, he will not be able to realise anything. Moreover, a pseudo-Bhikkhu who deceives the lay people supporting him in this way is likely to get a very long and painful rebirth. An honest man disrobes himself without any force being necessary though in some Buddhist countries today a defeated Bhikkhu who refuses to disrobe can be compelled to do so by secular law. When a Bhikkhu has been defeated he can never again, in that life, become a Bhikkhu again. This shows the wisdom of the Buddha who allowed Bhikkhus who were no longer happy in the Holy Life, to disrobe when they wished to do so. This allowance accounts for the fact that there have been very few defeated Bhikkhus.
The next class, of very serious offences, which are ‘curable’ after the prescribed penance, number thirteen. When it is said that they are ‘curable’ this does not mean that the penance having been properly performed by the guilty Bhikkhu, will wipe away the results of the bad kamma, which has been made. It only means that such a Bhikkhu is pure again and can continue in his training without the burden of a guilty conscience. Of the thirteen offences, five are concerned with relations just short of sexual intercourse - such as deliberate emission of semen, touching women lustfully and with intention, speaking lewd words to them, or praising intercourse as the highest way of making merit. Also included here are making arrangements for men to meet women (or vice versa), for marriage or for casual intercourse. A Bhikkhu thus can never ‘marry’ a couple in the way that priests do in western religion. This is not his job - though Bhikkhus are usually invited before a wedding to chant auspicious stanzas. Buddhist weddings are therefore performed by any competent friend of the family who knows the tradition.
Other serious matters included under this heading are establishing a monastic residence on land which has not been appointed by competent senior Bhikkhus and which has no proper surrounding area, or the building itself being too large. A Bhikkhu, if building for himself, is allowed to construct a hut about 13 feet long by seven foot six inches wide - inside measurements. Trying to oust from the Holy Life another Bhikkhu who is innocent by accusing him of one of the four Defeats is the subject of two offences here. Attempting to cause a schism in the Sangha, and being followers of one who attempts to do this, are two more offences. Last but one is the case of a Bhikkhu who is difficult to admonish, who adopts the attitude ‘Well, I shan’t say anything to you about your deeds, so don’t you say anything to me!’ And last comes the Bhikkhu who is a ‘corrupter of families’, that is, he gives gifts here and there intending to make himself popular so that he will receive plenty of offerings, he is also guilty of an offence entailing ‘initial and subsequent meeting of the Sangha’.
A Bhikkhu who falls into any of these offences must first confess them to his Teacher who them informs the Sangha of some special procedure to be enacted. When the Bhikkhus have met, the guilty Bhikkhu must inform them of the nature of his offence and then ask for the six-night penance. If he has concealed his offence he must first undergo a period of probation equal in length of time to the concealment, then carry out the six-night penance. In any case, during the entire period he loses all his seniority and must be seated as the youngest Bhikkhu, also he cannot take part in official Sangha acts such as ordination, nor can he teach the Dhamma. All visiting Bhikkhus have to be informed by him of his offence. At the successful conclusion of this penance, he has to request rehabilitation to his former status in the presence of not less than twenty Bhikkhus.
Next in seriousness are a number of wrong actions which have no specific number as they are scattered here and there in the Books of Discipline. These are the grave offences such things as appearing naked in public (unless forced to do so when robes have been stolen), drinking blood and deliberately stimulating the sexual organs. This class of offences are not included in the Bhikkhu’s code of discipline - the Pātimokkha - because they are often, though not always, the lesser degree of some more serious offence, which is in that code.
But the next group, the thirty offences of expiation with forfeiture, are in the Pātimokkha. They mostly concern requisites - robes, or funds for buying them, rugs, bowls, medicines, and so on, which a Bhikkhu can keep only within a certain number of days or of which he can possess only a certain quantity. There are also important rules about Bhikkhus not receiving money, handling it, nor trafficking with it in any way. A good Bhikkhu tries to be free from the taint of money, which promises to buy ‘happiness’ for him. This protects him from the latent greed in his own mind. Articles which he possesses in excess, or overtime or should not possess at all like money, have to be forfeited to another Bhikkhu, or in the case of money, to the Sangha who arranges for its disposal. Then the guilty Bhikkhu simply confesses his offence and promises that in future he will be restrained. This method of purification applies also to the class of grave offences mentioned above and to all the remaining groups of offences to be outlined below.
Among the minor offences, though some matters here are serious enough, are the ninety-two offences of expiation. This is a, class dealing with a very wide range of topics from matters of importance at all times such as not being respectful (to other Teacher-Bhikkhus or to the Way of training), round to subjects which now have little relevance, such as not having a needle-case made of bone, ivory or horn. There is also a whole section of ten rules limiting the dealings of Bhikkhus with the bhikkhunis. This has little significance now as bhikkhunis have disappeared in Theravada lands (see Ch. VII) though some of the rules could still apply with the present upāsikās or nuns.
An important principle is illustrated here: of time and place. The Buddha spoke of certain rules, which have application only at certain, times or places. For instance, a rule here makes bathing more frequently than once a fortnight an offence of expiation, though one is encouraged by the number of exceptions to note that usually Bhikkhus will have bathed more ‘frequently! But this rule applies only in ‘the Middle Country’ or the eastern Gangetic valley where the Buddha mostly taught; even there it may have applied only in times of drought. The Buddha was sometimes accompanied by a thousand or more Bhikkhus and bhikkhunis and if all of them bathed from a village’s wells the water would have been finished very quickly! At special times he allowed, for example, to sick Bhikkhus, what was usually unallowable, that is to make a fire for warming the body. The variety of matters covered by the rules in this section is so great that interested readers should consult the Pātimokkha or the Book of the Discipline for details.
Four minor rules of a slightly different sort follow the expiations and then come the group of seventy-five ways of training. These brief rules are mostly about good manners and polished conduct regarding the wearing of robes and bearing the body, collecting alms food and eating it, occasions suitable for speaking Dhamma, and places for passing urine and excrement. If they are broken they are only offences of wrong-doing, but Teachers stress their importance since they cover everyday matters. They would not be so important for those coming from refined and well disciplined families but many Bhikkhus, then as now, come from the country and needed these Trainings. They apply not only to Bhikkhus but also to Samaneras who usually learn them by heart.
Many of the allowances and prohibitions are in the second part of the Vinaya, the Great and Lesser Chapters. The Buddha found it necessary to lay them down as the Sangha expanded and gained more supporters. This brought more possibilities of using a variety of articles. To take an example: Bhikkhus were offered honey by a rich merchant. At first they declined to accept this offering as honey had not then been allowed by the Buddha. Then he made it allowable and the Bhikkhus accepted it. Or a prohibition: the turbulent group of six Bhikkhus began wearing all manner of decorated and expensive sandals, which the Buddha had to prohibit as unsuitable for those leading the homeless life. Showy, decorated and expensive things generally are unsuitable for Bhikkhus who should use plain and ordinary things. Prohibitions, as in this case, are often backed up by the phrase, „and whoever shall use them falls into an offence of wrong-doing“.
Common things of no great value are suitable for Bhikkhu-life. But if a Bhikkhu has great valuables he becomes liable to the same troubles as householders who have to guard wealth and possessions from envy and theft by others. He should reflect: „All that is mine, dear and delightful, will change and vanish“ and so not become attached to many or valuable possessions. Here are eight ‘blessings’ enjoyed by Bhikkhus as related to a king in the power of the passions by a Pacceka-Buddha (a Buddha who is unable to teach in detail):
Now we can consider some of the legal procedures, which are methods for dealing with four sorts of occurrences in the Sangha. These are: contentions, accusations, faults and duties. Regarding the first of these - two Bhikkhus might have difference understandings of Dhamma and Vinaya and so begin to dispute with each other. The Sangha has the duty then to examine them both and then pronounce judgement on who is right and who is wrong.
In the second case, sometimes a Bhikkhu accuses another of some undeclared offence, which accusation may or may not be true. The Sangha must meet to decide what is true and what is false.
When a Bhikkhu has an offence against one of the training-rules then he should take the appropriate steps to purify himself, by confession to the Sangha or to an individual Bhikkhu. The Sangha has to meet here only if the offence is serious, one of those in the group of thirteen called ‘Initial and subsequent meeting of the Sangha’.
Lastly, there are duties to be done, such as the Bhikkhus who are invited to accept an applicant as a new Bhikkhu, or those who participate in establishing a new boundary for an ordination (acceptance) temple. These duties should be thoroughly carried out for it is the responsibility of Bhikkhus to see that the Sangha’s business is properly done.
In all these cases the Sangha, which is present for those matters, has to act in harmony. Decisions are not taken by a person in authority (say an abbot) and then handed down for obedient submission by juniors. The Buddha himself came from a people, the Sakiyas, who though they had a form of monarchy, were among the democratic and republican tribes. In those states there was a Sabhā or legislative assembly in which all the leading citizens had a voice. We may assume that the rajah was the most prominent among the citizens and leader of this assembly. With this background the Buddha would be unlikely to institute an authoritarian system of government in the Sangha. So when he came to lay down the legal procedures for the Sangha he did so with a group (Sangha) making decisions on the basis of the rulings that he had given.
A Sangha in this sense means the group of Bhikkhus who have gathered, or been invited, to attend to one of the above legal procedures, the number of them depending on the function they are to perform. Thus, if they gather to recite the Pātimokkha on the Uposatha days four Bhikkhus at least are needed for a quorum. But five are necessary in an acceptance ceremony for a new Bhikkhu in ‘outlying countries’ which means everywhere except the Gangetic Valley. In the Middle Country there, ten Bhikkhus are needed for this same function. A group of not less than twenty Bhikkhus are a Sangha for an offending Bhikkhu who asks for rehabilitation after having done his penance, as mentioned above.
In each case there will be competent and learned senior Bhikkhus (or Theras) who ensure that the procedures are fully carried out so that they cannot be challenged by other Bhikkhus. A procedure, which is not thoroughly accomplished, is not fit to stand; it carries no weight. For instance, if a man under twenty goes through the ordination procedure correctly in the presence of a sufficient number of Bhikkhus he is, nevertheless, not a Bhikkhu since he is less than the required age. Similarly if words or sentences are omitted in these procedures they have no validity. Hence the care with which all the functions of a Sangha are carried out.
Their form depends on the
pattern laid down by the Buddha but broadly speaking they consist either of a
motion put to the Sangha, by one or more Bhikkhus, followed by three
announcements, or a motion followed by one announcement. The more important
Sangha functions are of the first type and those of lesser weight, the second.
At the end of the motion and before the conclusion of the announcements any
Bhikkhu in that Sangha who wishes to object has the chance to do so. If there is
an objection - and this is very uncommon, then that legal act is broken and must
be performed again to become valid. The motion is carried by silence, for
example; at the end of the Acceptance of a new Bhikkhu, these words are chanted:
„If Acceptance is agreeable to the venerable ones of (name) with venerable (Preceptor’s name) as preceptor, let them be silent. He to whom it is not agreeable should speak. The Acceptance has been given by the Sangha to (name) with venerable (Preceptor’s name) as preceptor. It is agreeable to the Sangha, therefore it is silent. Thus do I remember it“.
As a conclusion for this chapter here is a short discourse of the Buddha explaining the advantages of the Vinaya. (Bracketed words are my explanations).
„Thus have I heard. At one time the Exalted One was staying near Sāvatthi at the Jeta Grove, Anāthapindika’s monastery. Then venerable Upāli approached the Exalted One, bowed down to him and then sat down nearby. Sitting there he asked the Exalted One, „Lord, what are the reasons why the rule of training was laid down for the disciples of the Tathāgata and the Pātimokkha appointed?“
„For ten reasons, Upāli, the rule of training was laid down and the Pātimokkha appointed:
For the good establishment of the Sangha. (Without Vinaya the Sangha could not last long).
For the comfort of the Sangha. (So that Bhikkhus may have few obstacles and live peacefully).
For the riddance of obstinate men (who would cause trouble in the Sangha).
For the happy abiding of well-behaved Bhikkhus. (Pure precepts make for happiness here and now).
For guarding against troubles (āsava) in this present life (Since much trouble is avoided by one with good moral conduct).
For guarding against troubles liable to arise in a future life (They may not arise for the well-practised person).
For pleasing those not yet pleased. (People who do not yet know Dhamma are pleased by a Bhikkhu’s good conduct).
For the increase of those who are pleased. (Those who know Dhamma already are pleased to see it practised).
For the establishment of True Dhamma. (The Dhamma lasts long when Vinaya is well practised by Bhikkhus).
For the benefit of Vinaya. (So that Vinaya, ‘the leading out’, can benefit many beings, out of dukkha, towards Nibbāna).
These, Upāli, are the ten
reasons why the rule of training was laid down and the Pātimokkha appointed for
the disciples of the Tathāgata“.
Thus spoke the Lord.
Delighted, venerable Upāli rejoiced in the Exalted One’s words.
Book of the Tens, Discourse 31).
For a full account see the essay, „The Life of Rahula“ in „The Novices Training“ (Samanerasikkha), Mahamakut Press, B.E. 2509 (1966).
For a complete treatment of this subject see „The Patimokkha“; „The Entrance to the Vinaya“, Vols. 1 2. Mahamakut Press; also „The Buddhist Monk’s Discipline“. Wheel No. 130/131, B.P.S.
See „The Life of Sariputta“, Wheel No. 90/92, B.P.S.
See the account in „The Book of Dicipline“ Vol. 5 p. 150-151; or the more embroidered version in the Dhammapada commentary, „Buddhist Legends“, Vol. 3. pp. 35-38. P.T.S.
See the complete translation „The Book of the Discipline“ Vols, 1-6, P.T.S.
See translation in „Everyman’s Ethics“, Wheel 14, B.P.S.